“Hello,” I say. “I’m here to meet—”
Shit, I’ve completely forgotten the names of the people I’m meeting.
Oh, great start, Becky. This is really professional.
“Could you just… hang on?” I say, and turn away, flushing red. I scrabble in my bag for the piece of paper — and here we are. Judd Westbrook and Kent Garland.
Kent? Is that really a name?
“It’s Rebecca Bloomwood,” I say to the maître d’, hastily shoving the paper back in my bag, “meeting Judd Westbrook and Kent Garland of HLBC.”
He scans the list, then gives a frosty smile. “Ah yes. They’re already here.”
Taking a deep breath, I follow him to the table — and there they are. A blond woman in a beige trouser suit and a chiseled-looking man in an equally immaculate black suit and sage-green tie. I fight the urge to run away, and advance with a confident smile, holding out my hand. They both look up at me, and for a moment neither says anything — and I feel a horrible conviction that I’ve already broken some vital rule of etiquette. I mean, you do shake hands in America, don’t you? Are you supposed to kiss? Or bow?
But thankfully the blond woman is getting up and clasping my hand warmly.
“Becky!” she says. “So thrilled to meet you. I’m Kent Garland.”
“Judd Westbrook,” says the man, gazing at me with deep-set eyes. “We’re very excited to meet you.”
“Me too!” I say. “And thank you so much for your lovely flowers!”
“Not at all,” says Judd, and ushers me into a chair. “It’s a delight.”
“An enormous pleasure,” says Kent.
There’s an expectant silence.
“Well, it’s a… a fantastic pleasure for me, too,” I say hastily. “Absolutely… phenomenal.”
So far so good. If we just keep telling each other what a pleasure this is, I should do OK. Carefully I place my bag on the floor, along with my copies of the FT and the Wall Street Journal. I thought about the South China Morning Post, too, but decided that might be a bit much.
“Would you like a drink?” says a waiter, appearing at my side.
“Oh yes!” I say, and glance nervously around at the table to see what everyone else is having. Kent and Judd have both got tumblers full of what looks like G&T, so I’d better follow suit. “A gin and tonic, please.”
To be honest, I think I need it, just to relax. As I open my menu, both Judd and Kent are gazing at me with an alert interest, as though they think I might suddenly burst into blossom or something.
“We’ve seen your tapes,” says Kent, leaning forward. “And we’re very impressed.”
“Really?” I say — and then realize I shouldn’t sound quite so astonished. “Really,” I repeat, trying to sound nonchalant. “Yes, well, I’m proud of the show, obviously…”
“As you know, Rebecca, we produce a show called Consumer Today,” says Kent. “We don’t have a personal finance segment at present, but we’d love to bring in the kind of advisory slot you’re doing in Britain.” She glances at Judd, who nods in agreement.
“It’s obvious you have a passion for personal finance,” he says.
“Oh,” I say, taken aback. “Well—”
“It shines through your work,” he asserts firmly. “As does the pincerlike grip you have on your subject.”
“You know, you’re pretty unique, Rebecca,” Kent is saying. “A young, approachable, charming girl, with such a high level of expertise and conviction in what you’re saying…”
“You’re an inspiration for the financially challenged everywhere,” agrees Judd.
“What we admire the most is the patience you show these people.”
“The empathy you have with them…”
“… that faux-simplistic style of yours!” says Kent, and looks at me intently. “How do you keep that up?”
“Erm… you know! It just… comes, I suppose…” The waiter puts a drink in front of me and I grab it thankfully. “Well, cheers, everyone!” I say, lifting my glass.
“Cheers!” says Kent. “Are you ready to order, Rebecca?”
“Absolutely!” I reply, quickly scanning the menu. “The ahm… sea bass, please, and a green salad.” I look at the others. “And shall we share some garlic bread?”
“I’m wheat-free,” says Judd politely.
“Oh, right,” I say. “Well… Kent?”